First published in the Marathon Mercury, June 15, 2021.
It has been a challenging few weeks in the news cycle. Recently 215 bodies were uncovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in BC. These children died at the hands of a system whose entire purpose was to erase Indigenous people from the future of our country. Don’t believe me? Just ask Duncan Campbell Scott, a civil servant in the 1920’s who worked on residential school policies and said just that.
Following this tragedy was the horrific attack which took place in London, Ontario last week. A driver, now charged with 4 counts of murder and 1 count attempted murder, targeted a local Muslim family leaving a young boy as the sole survivor.
This week I am all too aware that the hatred directed at Muslim neighbours, neighbours of Asian and Middle Eastern descent, is the same hatred that established the residential school system.
There is a sense of entitlement many Canadians have which breeds this unspeakable violence. It is a sense that we are the only rightful residents of this country, an entitlement that dehumanizes all others. We do not see neighbours, coworkers, elders, or children when we look at Indigenous, Black, Asian or Muslim community members. We don’t even see them as members of our community. This disassociation allows us to treat them as if they weren’t human. It is a terrible form of tribalism, a cancerous attitude. One that can start so small but grow until it suffocates common sense and compassion.
The Afzaal family were human beings. Originally from Pakistan, they made a home in London and were a vibrant part of their local community. They did not deserve to die. So too, the over 150,000 Indigenous children who were estimated to have passed through residential schools did not deserve the abused and mistreatment, sometimes leading to death, which they endured. All of these children of God, from the Afzaal family to children like Chanie Wenjack, have no less value or humanity than those of us of European descent.
It is not enough for us to simply be “not racist”. This insidious violence must be met with an equal and opposing force. We must fight tribalism and hate with love. When we humanize our neighbours, when we see them as a part of “us”, of our community, it is so much harder to let common sense and compassion slip out the door. By seeing ourselves as part of something bigger—whether it’s the human family, the web of creation, or a fellow child of God—we can actively fight against this tribalism that breeds violence.
So, as we watch the news this next few weeks, may we be carefully not to to assume we are so very different from our community members who have committed violent acts. If we are not pushing back against the tide of hatred and violence, if we are passive, we may be fostering a cancer within us unawares. Instead, let’s turn and extend our hands to our neighbours. Let’s listen to their stories and share are own with them—building bridges of understanding, celebrating our common humanity. Let us work as the peace-makers we have been so called to be.